Citizen Potawatomi Nation Director of Self-Governance Kasie Nichols recently passed the credentialing exam to become a Certified Grants Management Specialist through the National Grants Management Association. The association also selected Nichols as one of seven CGMS holders to serve on the newly created National Grants Management Association Certification Council, which oversees and manages the CGMS credential program.
The CGMS credential is comprehensive in scope, requiring mastery over the entire lifecycle of grants management from seeking out funds to closeout.
“I’d never heard of anything that really tested the knowledge of that complete lifecycle, and in a credentialed way,” Nichols said.
She is one of approximately 200 people who have earned the CGMS credential.
“It was not easy,” she said. “Before I passed the test, I cracked open the book and thought, ‘If anybody passed this test, they really do have to be an expert in all things federal awards,’ because it is a lot of detail, and it is all on the test. It was overwhelming.”
The credential and council position are high honors, designating Nichols as one of the top experts in her field. She believes they bring distinctions for the Tribe as well.
In a recent interview, Nichols told the Hownikan that members of the NGMA and people pursuing the CGMS credential run the gamut of grants professionals, from federal officials and local nonprofit organizations to educational institutions and hospitals.
“Unfortunately, I get the sense that tribes are often unnoticed, probably due to the historic paternalistic relationship with the federal government,” she said. “We’re often underestimated as maybe not knowing as much as other forms of government, despite a lot of evidence to the contrary. We do everything that so many do, if not more.”
Nichols said she sees this kind of outlook not only in grants management but across professions. It is a pattern that bears witness to over a century of policy between the U.S. federal government and tribes in North America.
Tribal reliance on grant funding follows from a long history of U.S. federal policy towards tribes throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The United States believed Natives lacked the ability to manage their own affairs. Euro-American reformers took it upon themselves to be the stewards and arbiters of the so-called “civilization” of Native tribes.
In the late 1800s, the U.S. federal government began moving towards allotment as a general policy for relations with Native tribes. The Citizen Potawatomi were an early test case for this policy after signing the Treaty of 1861; the Dawes Act of 1887 made allotment the rule of law. By dividing land held in common and conferring U.S. citizenship on Native individuals through these policies, the federal government sought to disintegrate tribalism and assimilate Native people into the dominant Euro-American social order.
Francis Paul Prucha writes in The Great Father: the United States Government and the American Indians that throughout the first few decades of the 20th century, the U.S. federal government greatly increased their bureaucratic interference in every aspect of tribal affairs in an attempt to conform them to their idea of effective social and economic models.
As the federal government felt the strain of such extensive management, and as it became evident that the desired “disappearance” of Native peoples into dominant society was not coming about, policy changed. The 1934 Indian Reorganization Act resulted in a return to tribal self-government across North America. The Citizen Potawatomi Nation adopted its constitution in accordance with this policy change in 1936.
However, another period of anti-tribalism followed in the 1940s-60s, known as the Termination Era, when the United States reversed self-governance policies. Activism of the Civil Rights Era contributed to yet another policy swing in the direction of tribal self-governance, this time in the form of the Indian Self-Determination Education and Assistance Act of 1975.
The ISDEAA laid out provisions for tribal governments to have more control over the administration of federal services and programs to their citizens through contracts formed with the federal government. These contracts essentially sourced employment within the federal programs to the tribes themselves, but the programs were still heavily regulated by federal requirements and funding. An amendment to the ISDEAA in 1994 authorized a new way to administer federal programs to tribes — compacts with federal agencies. These compacts “allow tribes to assume funding of, and control over, some federal programs, services, functions, or activities (PFSAs) that the DOI (Department of the Interior) otherwise would provide directly to tribes,” as outlined in a 2021 Congressional Research Service report.
Though policy cycled throughout the 20th century between intense government management and anti-tribalism on the one hand, and tribal self-governance on the other, critics note that self-governance has never entirely been on the tribes’ own terms. Programs and policies are still subject to federal oversight and held to Euro-American standards of society and economy — a lingering paternalism and power imbalance that impact tribes throughout the U.S. today.
Grants and Self-Governance
CPN seeks to achieve self-sufficiency and sovereignty in every area. The Office of Self-Governance works to help the Tribe secure the resources needed to manage its own affairs. Self-Governance staff facilitates the Tribe’s contracts and compacts with the federal government, as well as expands compacts to new areas and programs and secures grant funding as needed.
Grants are a critical element in the Tribe’s ability to administer its services and expand its self-sufficiency. Even with expanded provisions for tribal self-governance under the 1994 ISDEAA amendment, the funding available through compacts remains insufficient. Other programs, like CPN’s social service and justice programs, are not eligible for compact at all.
Most recently, the Tribe received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Indian Health Service to expand the CPN Behavioral Health Department. Nichols said her office is currently evaluating a second round of facility funding from the IHS and will soon submit proposals for a Native American language grant and a justice program grant. From emergency management to economic development projects, grant funding plays a crucial role in the independence Citizen Potawatomi Nation has built. Nichols and the entire staff in the Office of Self-Governance work to compile the best balance of compacts, contracts and grants to continue to develop the Tribe’s self-sufficiency and stability for generations to come.
Despite the comprehensive expertise CPN and other tribes have developed through many decades of navigating the complex web of relations between tribes and the federal government, Nichols said that tribes remain vastly underestimated by their peers and the federal government regarding grants management.
“There’s an under-appreciation for what tribes can do, how our relationship really should work as a partnership and not as a kind of paternalistic relationship, because we really are capable and competent enough to do the work to benefit our Tribal citizens,” Nichols said.
In achieving the CGMS credential, a prestigious and rare accomplishment, Nichols has gained for the Tribe a formal recognition of its extensive knowledge and capability.
“It really puts us on par with other grant professionals,” she said, whether that be colleagues from the federal government, institutions of higher education, or state or local governments. “We’re on the same level, and we do share as much knowledge as they do.”
Nichols hopes more people learn about the CGMS program through the NGMA and pursue the credential, especially tribal professionals or members. She is excited to see how her credential and new role on the oversight council helps advance CPN and all of Indian Country.
Find out more about the National Grant Managements Association at ngma.org.